Rogozin Sticks a Knife into Northrop Grumman’s Antares Rocket

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket liftoff from pad 0A at 12:40 p.m. EST from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on Feb. 19, 2022. The Cygnus spacecraft, carrying 8,300 pounds of science investigations and cargo, is scheduled to arrive at the space station on Monday, Feb. 21. (Credits: NASA Wallops/Allison Stancil)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said Russia will no longer sell rocket engines to U.S. companies, dealing a potentially fatal blow to Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket. The decision was made in retaliation for U.S. sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week.

Antares is powered by a pair of Russian RD-181 engines. The rocket’s first stage is built in Ukraine. The Russian invasion will likely cause a disruption in delivery of the rocket stages, if not a permanent end to them.

Antares has launched 16 times since April 2013, with 15 successes and one failure. The medium-lift rocket’s only payload has been Cygnus resupply ships bound for the International Space Station (ISS). Northrop Grumman has sold no other launches for the rocket.

Northrop Grumman officials say they have enough and stages to fly two more Cygnus missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under a delivery contract with NASA. Wikipedia indicates those launches are planned for this August and April 2023. Unless Russia reverses its decision, the company will need to find another ride to orbit for the freighters.

Three Cygnus resupply ships were launched aboard United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V boosters after Antares suffered a catastrophic failure seconds after launch in October 2014. A Cygnus freighter was destroyed in the explosion.

ULA is phasing out its Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy rockets in favor of the Vulcan Centaur rocket. Atlas V is powered by Russian RD-180 engines. ULA said it has enough Russian engines to allow Atlas V to fly out its manifest. Obtaining more RD-180 engines is not possible in light of Rogozin’s announcement.

Rogozin tweeted that Russian personnel were no longer servicing 24 RD-180 engines that ULA has in the United States. He has warned the engines could fail in flight without the servicing work.

Delays by Blue Origin in providing flight-ready BE-4 engines for Vulcan Centaur’s first stage has pushed back the new booster’s maiden flight to the end of this year at the earliest.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 would be another option for launching Cygnus freighters. The booster is used to launch Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon spacecraft to the space station.